The action takes place in a typical police station in Moscow. The detainee is waiting for a usual procedure – an interrogation, which happens to be rather rude, and an explanation as to what crime he’s being charged with. Suddenly, the interrogation turns into an intellectual lecture taught by the police officers who seem to be well-versed in structuralism and well-informed about the industrial music idols Einsturzende Neubauten.
A Man from Podolsk was famous writer D. Danilov’s debut in dramaturgy who that blew away the audience and became a No. 1 play in Russia. In 2018, for this play the playwright received The Golden Mask, the main award granted for theater productions in the country.
“I had just read Danilov’s play and it helped me understand the present-day Russia. There, you don’t face open oppression or political agitation, the kind I saw in Soviet times, and the propaganda backdrop isn’t too disturbing. On the contrary, there is a lot of creativity in theaters, galleries, cinemas and streets as well as on TV. But that’s the problem. Soft propaganda is spread precisely through that creativity. Opinions are forged in top-notch television shows and debates.
Nobody insists that there’s only one truth. However, the desired reality is created using all sophistic reasoning possible. That is why, as Danilov writes, that reality starts with a capital R – so creatively it is formed. The desired reality is created through beautiful surfaces and unconditional positivism – shows, intellectual games, high theater culture, and contemporary art. And, of course, the mesmerizing professional TV.
Precisely this impalpable mechanism is well revealed in Danilov’s play. It’s a regular day in a regular police station. Nothing special is happening – but the reality’s unreality, the cage of captivity that used to seem like a universe of infinite freedom, are suddenly revealed, similarly as in the The Matrix. I’m directing this play in Lithuania because while it contains many details peculiar to Russia, a similar matrix works here too – we often take things that we’d like to be true as true, thereby deceiving ourselves and others. There is a lot of this in our politics, our perception of both the present and the past and, inevitably, in the future that we are creating,” says director Oskaras Koršunovas.
In the play, the second reality turns on. In it police officers take care of the citizens’ erudition. Nikolai, a detained resident of Podolsk, a city near Moscow, is waiting for an explanation as to why he has been arrested. However, an ordinary interrogation turns into personal and intellectual terror that turns out to be more terrible than any moral and physical humiliation. Nikolai completely ignores Podolsk, full of bland Khruschev-era residential buildings, but adores Amsterdam. Thanks to a new form of cruelty Nikolai is forced to pay attention to the reality surrounding him and to try to fall in love with his native Podolsk no matter how it compares to the liberal city of Amsterdam. In this way, a regular examination in a regular police station turns into a gathering of eccentric intellectuals.
A Man from Podolsk as well as other works by D. Danilov are full of painstaking documentary details. This is not a coincidence, because the writer began his career as a journalist writing about peripheral Russian cities. His first literary works were also inspired by the Russian periphery. According to Danilov, his favorites cities are: Murmansk, Norilsk and Prokopyevsk. And again, it is difficult to understand whether the writer means this or is being ironic.
“I’m much more interested in what surrounds my characters than the characters themselves and their inner lives,” says Danilov.
Despite the many absurdities and exaggerations, critics often notice that A Man from Podolsk is Danilov’s “handshake” with today’s Russia and the system operating there. Here, the play and its first productions became a test for the notion of patriotism. ‘Absurd realism’ is how theater critics often describe the genre of A Man from Podolsk.